Pearl barley will forever remind me of my Grandad. Always one to hop on the health food trend train, not long after he retired he discovered a kindling love for cooking culminating in an attempt to master the art of a good soup. For months, were you to walk into their kitchen any time before lunch, you were bound to find either a man at his stove diligently stirring his pot or the results of a good mornings work wafting its scent to your stomach. He tried many a soup recipe but the one thing they all had in common – aside from being served after he’d bribed a spoonful of cod liver oil into you – was a good handful of pearl barley to finish. I never thought to ask why.
Last weekend, driving out to Iznik to show my sister the local area, we stopped by the roadside to buy fruit freshly picked from an orchard. For a kilo of tree-crisp red apples and half a dozen sun-drenched persimmon the farmer charged a ridiculous 2tl – round about 30p – in total. I’ll never understand how the value of food is reflected in currency, or how we fail to see its worth in its value. When I first came to Turkey I couldn’t believe how cheap chicken breast sold for or the irony of the cost of fresh turkey. Whereas in the UK, turkey is cheap and wings and legs are the cheaper cuts, here the richness of flavour adds cost. Surprising then, given the Turks noted love of meat and equivalent love of offal, that bone marrow is not a commodity of kind and is sold for a pittance as fodder for a stock pot. Maybe its the farmer lass in me, or it could be anaemia talking, but there are few greater treats than bubbling bone marrow oozing across a slice of fresh bread and melting butter. This soup, combining the barley for memories of a man dearly missed, leftover marrow to be sucked and excellent value for money is perfect for nourishing comfort and warmth and to share, and this morning, so foggy the outside melted into the window pane, it made as satisfying a breakfast as it makes a dinner or a lunch.
And for the why, though I won’t get to ask him for a while, it was probably because barley, high in antioxidant properties, lowers cholesterol and is the grain with the least fat per serving.
Beef and Barley Broth
The difference between a broth and a soup is (if memory serves correctly) the simplicity of the liquid in the bowl; broth will be devoid of cream and adornments, relying on the stock of the meat, or vegetable, as its flavourful base. If you can share your marrow with the soup, you’ll have a broth that would triumph ‘most any soup.
1 cup of pearl barley
2 diced carrots
3 diced cooking tomatoes
1 large onion
1 clove garlic
The day before you plan to make soup, roast your bones in a medium oven until the bones turn golden brown and any marrow is bubbling out. Place the bones in a stock pan, cover with water, add the onion, carrot peel, garlic, cover the pan and slowly simmer for four/five hours until the liquid’s reduced by a third. Drain the liquid, reserving only bones containing marrow, and place these back into the pot. Cool.
To cook the barley. Cover the barley with twice the amount of water to grains, bring to the boil and strain. Repeat. Third time, let the barley boil until cooked to taste, around 40 minutes – it should still be fairly firm in texture.
To make the soup, dice the meat into tiny chunks and saute with the carrots and tomatoes in a dash of olive oil.
Take the cooled stock, scrape off any fat risen to the surface and add the stock, plus marrow bones, into the pan. Cover and simmer for two/three hours until the meat is tender and the stock reduced. Add cooked barley. Stir in herbs of choice (I use dill and parsley) and season to taste. Warm through the barley and serve your hearty broth with a bone marrow toast on the side.